West Nile Virus, a U.S. Problem

The worst West Nile virus outbreak since the disease was first detected in the United States in 1999 has hit the United States.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been more cases of the virus so far this year than any year. As of Aug. 14, almost 700 cases had been reported across the nation, including 26 deaths.

“Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Normally, the number of mosquitoes decreases greatly during the cold months, with a small proportion of mosquitoes surviving, or ‘overwintering.’ This year, with a mild winter, more mosquitos survived and so we’re seeing a bumper crop,” explains George DiFerdinando Jr., director of the New Jersey Center for Public Health Preparedness.

Dayna Bennett contracted the West Nile Virus back in August of 2003 and was hospitalized with viral meningitis. Today, she has very little memory of being ill. She says: “I basically slept for three months. Today, I am still having issues with it. When the weather is very hot, I feel like I have it again. I don’t get as sick as I did in 2003, but I have fatigue and flu-like symptoms. I contacted the CDC in 2004 to find out if there was anything I could do, if West Nile is like other mosquito-borne diseases. I was told no and that it was “all in my head.” Recently, I have read research that West Nile is like other diseases, in that it stays in your system and you have flare ups. I also talked to a neurologist recently who told me that my temporal lobes are damaged because of West Nile. I have memory loss that interferes with my everyday life. I think it’s important that more research be done on this serious illness.”

Bruce Clements, Director of Community Preparedness at the Texas Department of State Health Services, tells CDC that Texas is currently seeing more than three times as many cases than previously seen in Texas since 2003. “Texas is on track to have the worst year ever for West Nile virus infections,” Clements said. “Assuming normal disease progression, we will outpace 2003, our worst year in terms of the number of cases.”

West Nile virus was first isolated in the West Nile sub-region of Uganda in 1937. The virus first appeared in the United States in 1999 in New York City. Today, we know that mosquitoes get the virus from birds they bite and the virus is spread to humans from mosquito bites.

Most West Nile virus exposures in the United States occur from July through October, with a peak during the first two weeks of August. Peak season in Texas is under way, and there are already 336 cases of West Nile illnesses, including 14 deaths reported as of August 13, making this the largest outbreak of West Nile virus in Texas since 2003. The virus has been appearing in many parts of the country, but almost half of the cases are in Texas and the numbers are rising.

Bruce Clements, Director of Community Preparedness at the Texas Department of State Health Services, tells CDC that Texas is currently seeing more than three times as many cases than previously seen in Texas since 2003. “Texas is on track to have the worst year ever for West Nile virus infections,” Clements said. “Assuming normal disease progression, we will outpace 2003, our worst year in terms of the number of cases.”

West Nile virus was first isolated in the West Nile sub-region of Uganda in 1937. The virus first appeared in the United States in 1999 in New York City. Today, we know that mosquitoes get the virus from birds they bite and the virus is spread to humans from mosquito bites.

Fueled by longer rainy seasons, overpopulation and inadequate mosquito eradication efforts, dengue fever is on the upswing. At least 100 cases a year are reported among U.S. travelers, but dengue is often under-reported and misdiagnosed because it mimics other diseases. Although most patients recover within a week, a small percentage develop a more severe, sometimes fatal form.

The CDC notes that dengue is the most common cause of fever in travelers returning from the Caribbean, Central America, and South Central Asia. Last year, just over 1 million cases were reported to the Pan American Health Organization, including 18,321 severe dengue cases and 716 deaths with outbreaks in Paraguay, Panama, Aruba, Bahamas, and Saint Lucia. Cases also have been confirmed in Florida, where officials are considering the release of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat the problem.

Unlike those carrying malaria, dengue-infected mosquitoes — which can include the aggressive Asian tiger mosquito — are found in urban as well as rural areas. Peak biting periods are several hours after daybreak and before dark, but the mosquitoes can feed anytime during the day — indoors, in shady areas or when it’s overcast.

When you look at the numbers scores are dying monthly.

And because there’s no vaccine to prevent it, “basically, if there are bugs around, you’re at risk,” Susan McLellan, tropical medicine specialist at Tulane University, said “All you can do is not get bitten.”

One Response to "West Nile Virus, a U.S. Problem"

  1. Henry   August 18, 2012 at 4:38 am

    Your title says that West Nile virus rips through the Bahamas but your article does not name support your title. According to your article, it was dengue fever that affected the Bahamas. According to the content of your article, West Nile virus actually ripped through the Uganda, New York and Texas. Typical sensational, poor journalism.

    Reply

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